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The Takacs Quartet brings the Bartok cycle back to the Kennedy Center

Takacs Quartet is, from left, Andras Fejer, Harumi Rhodes, Geraldine Walther and Edward Dusinberre.
Takacs Quartet is, from left, Andras Fejer, Harumi Rhodes, Geraldine Walther and Edward Dusinberre. (Amanda Tipton)
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As bodies shed and replace their cells, long-standing musical ensembles evolve through different members over the years. The Takacs Quartet was founded in 1975 by four students at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest; today, there is only one Hungarian left.

Yet like bodies, ensembles retain a particular thumbprint that makes them unique even as the cells renew. The Takacs Quartet (pronounced TA-katch) has retained an immediate, vital, almost informal air: enthusiastic communicators rather than ascetic purists, with a Central European warmth to their sound as their instruments converse with one another.

The group has always had a particular association with Bela Bartok, the great 20th-century Hungarian composer, whose six quartets are some of the pinnacles of 20th-century chamber music. Bartok was among the pioneers of the field that has become ethnomusicology, traveling into the country with phonographs to record musical traditions that had no other form of transmission. His quartets are veined with the folk music he found there, and informed by classical-music forms; the whole lashed together with dissonances and bracing atonalities that make the music distinctive and alive.

Five years ago, the Takacs played the Bartok cycle over two nights in Washington, but the first night coincided with a blizzard, so the Terrace Theater was only half full for what proved to be a searing performance. They are returning now at a more temperate time of year, and in a new incarnation: Harumi Rhodes is now the second violin, replacing Karoly Schranz, who retired in 2018. Rhodes has been a prominent figure on the chamber music scene, and descends from string-quartet royalty to boot; her father Samuel was for 44 years the violist of the Juilliard String Quartet.

Her presence will add color to a conversation that seems to have grown more spirited with the years. She now plays alongside the American violist Geraldine Walther (previously the principal viola of the San Francisco Symphony) and the British first violinist Edward Dusinberre, who has played with the quartet since 1993 and recently wrote the book “Beethoven for a Later Age” about the quartet’s work with Beethoven’s music. Anchoring the group on cello is Andras Fejer, the last Hungarian standing. These days, the quartet is based in Boulder, Colo., where they teach at the university; but Fejer represents the continuity of its Hungarian accent and Hungarian smile.

Takacs Quartet

Performing Bartok’s six quartets on Oct. 15-16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. $45.